Friday, October 2, 2015

ISIS as a Proto-state
            It is difficult for the majority of people in the United States to understand how ISIS could appeal to such a wide audience, drawing adherents from the West, from multiple countries in the Middle East, and Africa.  Yesterday, October 1, at the Eight Bells Lecture held in Brett Hall and sponsored by the Naval War College Museum, Mr. Haider Mullick provided an overview of the topic and gave perspective to the mayhem and brutality of the entity known as ISIS.
            Mr. Mullick is presently a PhD candidate at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.  In addition, he is a senior lecturer at the Naval Post Graduate School and adjunct professor at the Naval War College where he teaches a course on ISIS/Modern terrorism.  As president of Red Teaming Associates, he has worked with various think-tanks and also advised the Department of Defense on US-Middle East relations as a senior advisor.
            Organizing his lecture around four key points, Mullick described: firstly  the broad appeal of ISIS, as well as the weaknesses; secondly,  understanding the many moving parts in the Middle East; thirdly, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his rise and ultimate death in 2006, and his legacy; and finally, how U.S. involvement has contributed to the present state of affairs in the region. 
            The genesis of ISIS began with Zarqawi.  To follow his life is to see the blossoming of a radical philosophy that has continued to grow even after his death.  He learned to fight with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  Then, gaining funding, he exported his terror to his home country Jordan.  His big opportunity to expand his influence came with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the exploitation of Arab-Kurdish and Sunni-Shiite tensions.  The organizational structure, the infrastructure built upon captured wealth and territory, the use of social media promoting the ISIS agenda and recruiting, and establishment of municipal administrations providing basic services and food to the local population are all remnants of his vision for establishing a modern caliphate.
            ISIS is an example of “crowd-sourcing” terrorism; but, above all, it is a military campaign that values action and victory over discussion.  To defeat ISIS will require a coalition of seemingly unlikely partners and, although all wars end, the disenfranchised will continue to struggle and be a fertile field for continued strife.
            The next Eight Bells Lecture will be held on October 22 with “The role of Los Alamos in the Atomic Age it Introduced to History” by Dr. Ron Barks.  For more information, call 841-4052/2101.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cushing Road’s Namesake

            Is it not a sad state of affairs that the man described by Theodore Roosevelt as “next to Farragut on the hero roll of American naval history” is unknown to most naval personnel, let alone the wider public. We celebrate Farragut with his paraphrased quote “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” but who was Lieutenant William Cushing and what did he do to deserve Roosevelt’s admiration? Why is the road in front of the Naval War College named Cushing?

             At this year’s inaugural Eight Bells Lecture held on September 10, Mr. Jamie Malanowski presented his book Commander Will Cushing: Daredevil Hero of the Civil War. The book has a depth that humanizes its main character. Cushing is described as youngster fond of practical jokes, unused to discipline, both academic and deportment. His large, extended family is described and there is an emphasis on his brothers, detailing the martial tradition and their service to the Union during the war. One brother, Alonzo, was a graduate of the Military Academy and would ultimately be awarded the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the Battle of Gettysburg where he lost his life in the defense of Cemetery Ridge. Another brother, Howard, would survive the Civil War only to be killed fighting the Apache chief Cochise in Arizona.

             Will Cushing, for his part, was forced to resign from the U.S. Naval Academy. With the on-coming Civil War, however, he was able to get his commission. What followed was a meteoric rise in fame and rank. He became the youngest person to attain lieutenant, lieutenant commander, and commander. His exploits were legendary. He was one of the thirty army and navy officers to receive the “Thanks of Congress” for his exploits. Ultimately, he would be awarded $56,000 in prize money.

             The lecture was held in the lounge on the first floor of Brett Hall, where all lectures will be held until the completion of the Naval War College Museum’s repairs. Once the museum re-opens, visitors will be able to see a model of the CSS Albemarle, the Confederate ironclad that Cushing sank using a spar torpedo. The unsung story of William Cushing is one that should be re-counted and passed along as a part of the Navy’s heritage. This book goes a long way to bringing the story back to the public’s consciousness.

             Next, on September 22, the Eight Bells Lecture Series will have Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 12, American Theater: April 1, 1778-May 31, 1778; European Theater: April 1, 1778-May 31, 1778 presented by Dr. Dennis Conrad, one of the editors. For more information, contact the Naval War College Museum at 841-2101/4052.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Souvenirs from USS Niagara

Wooden fragment from USS Niagara
Gift of Mr. Robert J. Powel

Gavel made from USS Niagara wood
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mrs. Verna Vtipil

If you took a vacation this summer, chances are you couldn’t resist at least a quick look in one of the gift shops you passed along the way. How many of us have boxes full of souvenirs from parks, museums, and historic sites? For many, the trip just isn’t complete until we find something to take home that will serve as a reminder of the famous places we’ve visited.

Before the modern historic preservation movement, attitudes about taking souvenirs from historic locations were much more relaxed than they are today. In the 1800s, visitors to Mt. Vernon were known to chip off a piece of wood to take home with them. Today, most historic sites have outlawed relic-hunting without a permit, but at the time it was considered perfectly acceptable for casual tourists.

This penchant for souvenir-taking also extended to the realm of naval history. Pictured above are a wood fragment and a gavel made of wood from USS Niagara, the ship to which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry transferred his flag during the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. Niagara won fame for her role in the battle and became a receiving ship for the naval station at Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, after the war. When the station closed in 1820, nobody came forward with a plan to save the historic ship, and it was allowed to sink at its anchorage in Misery Bay. The centennial celebration of the battle brought about renewed interest in Perry’s ship, and it was finally decided to raise and restore Niagara in 1913. While her keel was sturdy enough to be rebuilt, the remaining parts could not be reused. They could, however, be turned into commemorative items and sold to a public that was eager to own an actual piece of the famous ship.

Stern view of USS Niagara after being raised from Misery Bay in 1913
"Perry's Victory Centennial Souvenir: The Niagara Keepsake," p. 18
Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command

Niagara was not the only warship to be partially cannibalized for souvenirs. Other famous vessels such as USS Constitution, USS Constellation, and USS Hartford had portions of their original structures taken for the souvenir market. Each time one of them underwent a restoration, collectors received a new supply of wood to be fashioned into canes, jewelry boxes, paperweights, and other decorative objects. In an era when museums were few in number, these mementos gave ordinary people a way to form a personal connection with their nation’s past.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"The Mosquito Fleet" in World War II

PT 511 crew
Although PT boats are usually associated with the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII, they served all over the world including in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean Oceans. Today is the anniversary of a last ditch effort by the German Navy to reinforce their garrison in Le Havre during WWII, a port overlooking the D-Day beaches that had been cut off by the Allied advance after June 6. On the night of August 26, a small group of landing craft and R-boats approached Le Havre with ammunition and supplies. HMS Retalick, a Royal Navy frigate, detected the convoy and guided three PT boats into the area to launch an attack. PT 511, PT 514, and PT 520 approached and fired six torpedoes without being discovered. They sank two artillery ferries, AF-98 and AF 108, before the German escorts found them and returned fire. The PTs withdrew through heavy fire without sustaining any casualties.

Most of the men on those PT boats probably received their training just up the road from the Naval War College in Melville, RI. The Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center (MTBSTC) was established in February 1942 to train officers and enlisted personnel in all aspects of PT boat operations. The men lived in Quonset huts and trained aboard ten boats assigned to MTB Squadron Four. By March 1945, 1,800 officers and more than 11,000 enlisted men had graduated from the training program.

Gift of Gift of Mr. W. Ogden Ross and Mr. Leighton C. Wood
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mr. Anthony S. Marchetti
The Navy nicknamed its PT Boats “The Mosquito Fleet,” and hence many of the MTB Squadron unit insignia featured mosquitos in their design. Much like WWII bomber nose art, these insignia helped to build unit pride while also providing a way for squadron members to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Navy in a world where uniformity was the norm. The insignia for Squadrons 21 and 43 demonstrate the creativity that artists brought to this task. Squadron 21 saw service in the South Pacific during the war, while Squadron 43 was decommissioned and its boats transferred to the Soviet Union as part of lend lease. The MTBSTC closed in 1945, although the Navy continued to operate a fuel depot in Melville until 1973.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On This Day in History: Beginning of the New Steel Navy

Seventeen years after the Civil War ended, the U.S. Navy still looked very much like the fleet that had been built to blockade the Southern ports and chase down Confederate commerce raiders. The Navy in 1882 consisted of fourteen ironclads (mostly Civil War-era monitors) and a few wooden sailing vessels. The most powerfully armed among them mounted nothing larger than a five-inch smoothbore gun. One popular journalist of the era commented that the country had no more need for its weak navy “than a peaceable giant would have for a stuffed club or a tin sword.”

This lack of modernization was partly a byproduct of an ongoing debate about what the postbellum Navy’s role should be and what types of ships, if any, should be built. Many Americans who had lived through the Civil War wanted nothing more to do with military conflict, and some felt that strong coastal fortifications would be enough to protect America’s coasts without getting entangled in foreign affairs.

Beginning in 1881, Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt convened a naval advisory board to try to address the lamentable state of the Navy. The fifteen members of the board felt that the Navy should begin a new construction program, but they disagreed over whether the new ships should be sail or steam-driven, what kind of armament they should carry, and whether their hulls should be made of iron or steel.

Print by Frederick Cozzens depicting Atlanta, Chicago, Yorktown, and Boston
Gift of Mr. Edward A. Sherman III
Though they never reached full consensus, the board recommended that Congress set aside $29 million for the construction of sixty-eight new vessels. The House Naval Affairs Committee rejected this proposal as too costly. In any event, the assassination of President James Garfield put all plans on hold, and incoming President Chester A. Arthur replaced Hunt with his own pick for Secretary of the Navy, William E. Chandler. Chandler was also a proponent of modernization and successfully lobbied Congress to move forward with a drastically scaled back construction program.

Model of protected cruiser ChicagoScale: 1/8" = 1'
On loan from Curator of Ship Models, Naval Sea Systems Command
On August 5, 1882, Congress authorized the construction of two steel warships without appropriating any funds for them, insisting that the money come from somewhere else within the existing budget. This tepid response marked the beginning of an era that naval historians refer to as the New Navy. It would be one more year before another appropriations bill passed that set aside money for new construction, and this time for four ships: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Dolphin, known as the ABCD ships. Though construction was delayed by numerous setbacks, these first four ships of the new era announced to the rest of the world that the United States was intent on becoming a modern naval power.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, a two-time former President of the Naval War College and author of several important works on naval strategy, commanded Chicago from 1893-1895. During that period he sailed to Europe to make official visits as part of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. Mahan was widely respected among the European elite for his seminal work, The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660-1783, and received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge while visiting the United Kingdom. His writing formed the basis for much of the early curriculum at the Naval War College where students set about trying to formulate the tactics and strategies that the ABCD ships and their successors would be called upon to implement.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, July 31, 2015

Historical Paraphrasing – Battle of Mobile Bay


Commander T.A.M. Craven, commanding the monitor Tecumseh, was in the lead as four monitors formed a single column to the right of the wooden ships entering Mobile Bay.  The lead wooden ship was Brooklyn, Captain James Alden commanding.  This was the vanguard of Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s Western Gulf Squadron as they attempted to run into Mobile Bay, passing through the Confederate torpedo field blocking the way, on August 5, 1864.
At 0647, Tecumseh’s guns opened fire but the wooden ships had to endure the enemy’s fire for one-half hour before being able to bring their broadsides to bear with any effect.  Knowing the wooden ships would have to withstand the initial attack, Rear Admiral Farragut, ordered the ships to be formed into a double column and then lashed in pairs.  His flagship, USS Hartford, Fleet-Captain Percival Drayton commanding, was tied to Metacomet with Lieutenant Commander James E. Jouett commanding. 

Farragut took a position in the port main rigging, a few ratlins up, so he could view everything around him while still being able to converse with Drayton and Jouett.  As the battle progress and visibility was obscured due to smoke, Farragut would ascend the rigging as required.

It was 0730 when Commander Craven made his fatal error.  In his haste to engage the Confederate ship Tennessee, he chose to pass to the west of the buoy marking the eastern end of the torpedo line.  Tecumseh struck a mine and, within two minutes, sank with the loss of one hundred and thirteen men.  Brooklyn, seeing what had happened to Tecumseh, began to slow causing the following ships to converge and creating a state of confusion.
Realizing that his plan could turn into a disaster very quickly, Farragut asked what was the trouble.  The answer came back, “Torpedoes!”  To which Farragut uttered his famous response, “Damn the torpedoes!  Four bell! Captain Drayton, go ahead!  Jouett, full speed!”

This response, of course, has been shortened and paraphrased over time to “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” 
by John Kennedy, Director of Education
picture showing Farragut "Lashed to the Shrouds" from Library of Congress Collection


Monday, July 27, 2015

Artifact in the Spotlight: Beginnings of the Coast Guard

The Revenue Cutter Service was established by Congress on August 4, 1790.  Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and prevent smuggling. The service received its present name, U.S. Coast Guard, in 1915 under an act of Congress that merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life-Saving Service, thereby providing the nation with a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws. (Artifact in the Naval War College Museum collection)

by John Kennedy
Director of Education